Most Turkish students want to study abroad

An overwhelming majority of Turkish students – 95% – would like to study overseas, and the number of international students in the country has doubled in six years, according to a report released by the British Council ahead of the European Association for International Education's annual conference held in Istanbul last week.

The report also revealed the country’s development and growth over the past several years, and the rapid expansion of higher education.

Over the past decade, it revealed, the government’s University in 81 Cities Initiative had grown the number of universities by a whopping 114%. There are now 175 higher education institutions in Turkey: 104 state universities and 71 owned by private foundations.

In 2010 there were 3.5 million Turkish students enrolled in tertiary education programmes. This year, the gross enrolment ratio was 46% – although the ratio for males, at 51%, was much higher than for females, at 40%.

Gender remains an issue when accessing higher education in the country, with women being particularly underrepresented in science, engineering and technology.

Apart from the resources allocated to newly established universities, the government is also implementing initiatives to increase academic capacity and quality to enable Turkish higher education to compete in the international arena.

Soaring interest in overseas study

The report, titled The Importance of International Education: A perspective from Turkish students, detailed the results of a countrywide survey reflecting the views of 4,816 students aged from 22 to 25 years.

Over the past 10 years there has been a huge increase in the number of Turkish students studying abroad, and the study shows why.

An overwhelming majority (96%) of students surveyed said an overseas education was a good way to secure future employment, 95% said they would like to study overseas, and 86% cited cost as the greatest barrier to overseas study.

Of the respondents, 25% said the main advantage to studying overseas was exposure to different ways of thinking and learning, while 32% cited access to better education opportunities.

When survey respondents were asked in which country they would like to study, 30% said the UK, 30% also chose the United States, 8% chose Germany and 4% said Canada. Other popular study destinations were: France and Italy (3%), Spain, Australia and Switzerland (2%), and Sweden (1%).

Regarding Britain, 63% said academic excellence was the main magnet, while 26% said it was more attractive than other top choice destinations because of the language of tuition.

Growth in Turkish students abroad

In 2010, the survey revealed, 49,116 Turkish students travelled overseas to study.

A large proportion went abroad for summer schools and short courses, with just under 22,400 pursuing a year, semester or complete programme overseas.

However, the report pointed out, the number of Turkish students overseas “may not be representative of the true number owing to the large number of Turkish students in Germany and in the wider Turkish diaspora”, who are classified differently by statistics agencies.

“Some report that Turkish students overseas number as many as 100,000. Turkish students looking to study overseas may be motivated by the strong competition for domestic university places and pressure of the YGS [undergraduate-placement] exam,” said the report.

“With private tuition fees in Turkey matching or exceeding those overseas, students not offered a state-funded place at home are showing increasing interest in international programmes.”

Britain, Canada and Australia have experienced steady growth in the numbers of inbound Turkish students since 2008-09, while the United States has seen a decline. Germany has also grown in popularity as a study destination.

A study conducted by HSBC in August 2013 showed Australia as being the most expensive destination for international students, not only as far as tuition fees were concerned, but also cost of living, exchange rates and inflation. The results show the big differences in cost to students when choosing overseas study destinations, with Germany costing a ridiculous six times less than studying in Australia or the United States.

An increasingly popular destination

The report found that Turkey’s strategic location and the government’s active support for higher education internationalisation were behind the country’s increasing popularity as a study destination in the region and around the world.

In the six years to 2011-12, “the number of international students attending Turkish universities more than doubled, from 15,481 to 31,170. Students come from 155 countries to study in Turkey,” the report said, with Azerbaijan having the largest representation, followed by Turkmenistan and Northern Cyprus.

“Europe also showed strong numbers, with both Germany and Greece sending more than 1,300 students each.”

Economic growth and study abroad

Turkey has been described as Europe’s gateway to Asia and its next big powerhouse – it has become the 18th largest economy in the world, in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), and growth is predicted to be 3.5% this year. Projections indicate that annual growth will exceed 5% until 2017.

As Turkey’s GDP increases and it continues to encourage foreign direct investment and to develop its private sector, the country’s disposable incomes should increase. The average annual disposable income in 2012 was US$7,990 and this figure is expected to rise to US$11,823 by 2017.

The impact of Turkey’s increased personal disposable income of the growing middle-class could mean overseas study will become more affordable for more students, said the report.